Strawberry Hill—a Gothic Masterpiece!

Wheatcroft_1-022516Andrea/Cara here, It’s the height of summer here, and as I stare out my window at the small swatch of greensward and flowering shrubbery in my backyard, I can’t help but fantasize about the Regency-era ritual of the country house party. Imagine rolling through the gates of a grand estate, with acre upon acre of gardens, woodlands and waterways to explore by day. And a grand manor house in which to enjoy sumptuous meals and evening entertainments amid impressive furnishings and fabulous art . . .

13590357_1099341493444871_2103040095411232787_nWhich got me to thinking about which of the stately homes in England would have been the most fun to visit. I didn’t really have to ponder the question long—now, I know many people would choose Blenheim or Chatsworth, but for me, an invitation to Strawberry Hill would have had me packing my ballgowns in a heartbeat. I mean, how could any romance author resist the chance to hobnob with Horace Walpole, creator of The Castle of Otranto—considered the book that created the genre of the gothic novel! As for his self-designed residence and gardens—he called his enclave Strawberry Hill—well, read on!



Walpole Walpole, son of  British prime minister Sir Robert Walpole, was a connoisseur of the arts and letters, as well as an avid collector of antiquarian objects and a politician in his own right. In 1747, he found a piece of land called “Chopped Straw Hill” overlooking the Thames just southwest of London in Twickenham, a fashionable spot for the haute monde, and set out to build his dream home. Now, Walpole had his own very individual sense of aesthetics—some might call them eccentric—so, in contrast to the prevailing classic style of order and symmetry, he was inspired by the architecture of the Gothic cathedrals and abbeys to create his own vision of  medieval castle, with towers, turrets and unexpected twists and turns. He called his estate Strawberry Hill, a name he found more poetic than the original.

13585160_1099342010111486_2536336632295014415_oHis attention to detail extended to designing the ornaments and furnishing for the rooms—everything from stained glass to the fireplaces to the doors and window shapes. Collaborating with artists friends, he created a truly unique look—sometimes using paper mache instead of stone to fabricate his elaborate designs! (You can take a virtual tour of the house and gardens of Strawberry Hill here, created by the Lewis Walpole Library at  Yale.) Walpole called his creation “a plaything house” and wanted a tour through it to be a theatrical experience. He loved juxtaposing dark, gloomy spaces, and then suddenly having a narrow passage open up into a bright, colorful room. As his design was an original, rather than a renovation of an actual gothic building, he’s credited with creating the first Gothic Revival design, which became very popular in Victorian times.

13615513_1099341516778202_5228735225867678030_nGiven the eccentricities of his collection, it’s no wonder that the castle’s ambiance inspired him to write his famous book—it’s said he awoke from a dream and thought he saw a great armored fist lurking in the shadows . . a vision that quickly became part of the clanging chains and dark dungeon trope we know as the Gothic Novel. (Walpole also possessed the first private printing press in England, which he used to print his book.)

Etour_04Strawberry Hill quickly became an tourist destination. From May through October, Walpole allowed one group of four visitors a day, and drew up strict rules that had to be followed for entry. He came to dislike the public intrusion, and would often retreat to one of the out cottages during a tour. However, he loved entertaining, and the guest list often included royalty, high-ranking aristocrats and foreign dignitaries.

Etour_17The gardens showed the same sense of imagination. Rather than formal layouts featuring parterres, terraces and classical decorations, he favored a wild, natural look. Nor did he have a taste for dramatic grottos or other such contrivances. One might have expected the landscape to favor the same gothic mood as the castle, but according to Walpole, “Gothic is merely architecture, and as one has a satisfaction in imprinting the gloomth of abbeys and cathedrals on one's house, so one's garden, on the contrary, is to be nothing but riant, and the gaiety of nature."

Etour_09So what about you—at what stately English country manor would you like to have been on the guest list for a country house party. And if an English country house party hobnobbing with the beau monde is not on your dance card, do you have any special summer visits planned to fun places? I won't be straying too far from home, and need some vicarious traveling—so please share!

75 thoughts on “Strawberry Hill—a Gothic Masterpiece!”

  1. Thanks for the reminder about Strawberry Hill, Cara. DH and I are visiting London in December and I’m thinking about places to visit. Hopefully they are open.

    Reply
  2. Thanks for the reminder about Strawberry Hill, Cara. DH and I are visiting London in December and I’m thinking about places to visit. Hopefully they are open.

    Reply
  3. Thanks for the reminder about Strawberry Hill, Cara. DH and I are visiting London in December and I’m thinking about places to visit. Hopefully they are open.

    Reply
  4. Thanks for the reminder about Strawberry Hill, Cara. DH and I are visiting London in December and I’m thinking about places to visit. Hopefully they are open.

    Reply
  5. Thanks for the reminder about Strawberry Hill, Cara. DH and I are visiting London in December and I’m thinking about places to visit. Hopefully they are open.

    Reply
  6. I’m afraid that I don’t know enough about the “actual” stately country manors that exist to choose one. However, of all of the entertainments that are described in the novels that are set in the Regency world, the house party sounds like the only one that I would personally enjoy. Well, maybe the afternoon garden parties too. Especially the ones described in Mary Balogh’s novels where they all have boats available to take out on the lake or river.
    Venetian breakfasts, Musicals, and balls (especially the squeezes) make for interesting settings for the books but they don’t sound like something I would enjoy experiencing.

    Reply
  7. I’m afraid that I don’t know enough about the “actual” stately country manors that exist to choose one. However, of all of the entertainments that are described in the novels that are set in the Regency world, the house party sounds like the only one that I would personally enjoy. Well, maybe the afternoon garden parties too. Especially the ones described in Mary Balogh’s novels where they all have boats available to take out on the lake or river.
    Venetian breakfasts, Musicals, and balls (especially the squeezes) make for interesting settings for the books but they don’t sound like something I would enjoy experiencing.

    Reply
  8. I’m afraid that I don’t know enough about the “actual” stately country manors that exist to choose one. However, of all of the entertainments that are described in the novels that are set in the Regency world, the house party sounds like the only one that I would personally enjoy. Well, maybe the afternoon garden parties too. Especially the ones described in Mary Balogh’s novels where they all have boats available to take out on the lake or river.
    Venetian breakfasts, Musicals, and balls (especially the squeezes) make for interesting settings for the books but they don’t sound like something I would enjoy experiencing.

    Reply
  9. I’m afraid that I don’t know enough about the “actual” stately country manors that exist to choose one. However, of all of the entertainments that are described in the novels that are set in the Regency world, the house party sounds like the only one that I would personally enjoy. Well, maybe the afternoon garden parties too. Especially the ones described in Mary Balogh’s novels where they all have boats available to take out on the lake or river.
    Venetian breakfasts, Musicals, and balls (especially the squeezes) make for interesting settings for the books but they don’t sound like something I would enjoy experiencing.

    Reply
  10. I’m afraid that I don’t know enough about the “actual” stately country manors that exist to choose one. However, of all of the entertainments that are described in the novels that are set in the Regency world, the house party sounds like the only one that I would personally enjoy. Well, maybe the afternoon garden parties too. Especially the ones described in Mary Balogh’s novels where they all have boats available to take out on the lake or river.
    Venetian breakfasts, Musicals, and balls (especially the squeezes) make for interesting settings for the books but they don’t sound like something I would enjoy experiencing.

    Reply
  11. Nice piece, Cara. Daniel Wadsworth was taken to Strawberry Hill as a boy, and it eventually inspired his own Gothic country house, high atop Avon Mountain, here in CT, long before he founded the Wadsworth Atheneum. We should all be Walpudlians!

    Reply
  12. Nice piece, Cara. Daniel Wadsworth was taken to Strawberry Hill as a boy, and it eventually inspired his own Gothic country house, high atop Avon Mountain, here in CT, long before he founded the Wadsworth Atheneum. We should all be Walpudlians!

    Reply
  13. Nice piece, Cara. Daniel Wadsworth was taken to Strawberry Hill as a boy, and it eventually inspired his own Gothic country house, high atop Avon Mountain, here in CT, long before he founded the Wadsworth Atheneum. We should all be Walpudlians!

    Reply
  14. Nice piece, Cara. Daniel Wadsworth was taken to Strawberry Hill as a boy, and it eventually inspired his own Gothic country house, high atop Avon Mountain, here in CT, long before he founded the Wadsworth Atheneum. We should all be Walpudlians!

    Reply
  15. Nice piece, Cara. Daniel Wadsworth was taken to Strawberry Hill as a boy, and it eventually inspired his own Gothic country house, high atop Avon Mountain, here in CT, long before he founded the Wadsworth Atheneum. We should all be Walpudlians!

    Reply
  16. Yes, I’d enjoy all the walking through the estate grounds, and visits to the local sights, like abbey ruins. Boating would be lovely too (though not comfortable to navigate in all those layers of female clothing!)
    And I must say, I think a ball would be fun, just to experience the ambiance.

    Reply
  17. Yes, I’d enjoy all the walking through the estate grounds, and visits to the local sights, like abbey ruins. Boating would be lovely too (though not comfortable to navigate in all those layers of female clothing!)
    And I must say, I think a ball would be fun, just to experience the ambiance.

    Reply
  18. Yes, I’d enjoy all the walking through the estate grounds, and visits to the local sights, like abbey ruins. Boating would be lovely too (though not comfortable to navigate in all those layers of female clothing!)
    And I must say, I think a ball would be fun, just to experience the ambiance.

    Reply
  19. Yes, I’d enjoy all the walking through the estate grounds, and visits to the local sights, like abbey ruins. Boating would be lovely too (though not comfortable to navigate in all those layers of female clothing!)
    And I must say, I think a ball would be fun, just to experience the ambiance.

    Reply
  20. Yes, I’d enjoy all the walking through the estate grounds, and visits to the local sights, like abbey ruins. Boating would be lovely too (though not comfortable to navigate in all those layers of female clothing!)
    And I must say, I think a ball would be fun, just to experience the ambiance.

    Reply
  21. Since I don’t know English stately home, I can’t pick one to visit.
    I DO have a visit of historical artifacts on my to-do list, but it’s not as old as the regencies. In the town of Pella, Iowa, founded by Netherlanders emigrating from Friesland in the 1840s, there is a museum containing information from that voyage. One of the ships they sailed into Baltimore on, also contained MY ancestors, who came from Nord Brabant. Pella is about a half-day drive straight north of here. If our Mid-West summer every cools down, we plan to see if we can find ancestral information in Pella.

    Reply
  22. Since I don’t know English stately home, I can’t pick one to visit.
    I DO have a visit of historical artifacts on my to-do list, but it’s not as old as the regencies. In the town of Pella, Iowa, founded by Netherlanders emigrating from Friesland in the 1840s, there is a museum containing information from that voyage. One of the ships they sailed into Baltimore on, also contained MY ancestors, who came from Nord Brabant. Pella is about a half-day drive straight north of here. If our Mid-West summer every cools down, we plan to see if we can find ancestral information in Pella.

    Reply
  23. Since I don’t know English stately home, I can’t pick one to visit.
    I DO have a visit of historical artifacts on my to-do list, but it’s not as old as the regencies. In the town of Pella, Iowa, founded by Netherlanders emigrating from Friesland in the 1840s, there is a museum containing information from that voyage. One of the ships they sailed into Baltimore on, also contained MY ancestors, who came from Nord Brabant. Pella is about a half-day drive straight north of here. If our Mid-West summer every cools down, we plan to see if we can find ancestral information in Pella.

    Reply
  24. Since I don’t know English stately home, I can’t pick one to visit.
    I DO have a visit of historical artifacts on my to-do list, but it’s not as old as the regencies. In the town of Pella, Iowa, founded by Netherlanders emigrating from Friesland in the 1840s, there is a museum containing information from that voyage. One of the ships they sailed into Baltimore on, also contained MY ancestors, who came from Nord Brabant. Pella is about a half-day drive straight north of here. If our Mid-West summer every cools down, we plan to see if we can find ancestral information in Pella.

    Reply
  25. Since I don’t know English stately home, I can’t pick one to visit.
    I DO have a visit of historical artifacts on my to-do list, but it’s not as old as the regencies. In the town of Pella, Iowa, founded by Netherlanders emigrating from Friesland in the 1840s, there is a museum containing information from that voyage. One of the ships they sailed into Baltimore on, also contained MY ancestors, who came from Nord Brabant. Pella is about a half-day drive straight north of here. If our Mid-West summer every cools down, we plan to see if we can find ancestral information in Pella.

    Reply
  26. Sue, that sounds like a fabulously interesting place to visit. And looking for ancestral info makes it even more special. Keep us posted on what you discover!
    Hope your heat moderates. Here in the northeast, we’ve actually been having a glorious summer, with 70 degree temperatures and low humidity.But today is sticky and over 100 degrees, so I know how horrible those heat waves can be. Stay cool!

    Reply
  27. Sue, that sounds like a fabulously interesting place to visit. And looking for ancestral info makes it even more special. Keep us posted on what you discover!
    Hope your heat moderates. Here in the northeast, we’ve actually been having a glorious summer, with 70 degree temperatures and low humidity.But today is sticky and over 100 degrees, so I know how horrible those heat waves can be. Stay cool!

    Reply
  28. Sue, that sounds like a fabulously interesting place to visit. And looking for ancestral info makes it even more special. Keep us posted on what you discover!
    Hope your heat moderates. Here in the northeast, we’ve actually been having a glorious summer, with 70 degree temperatures and low humidity.But today is sticky and over 100 degrees, so I know how horrible those heat waves can be. Stay cool!

    Reply
  29. Sue, that sounds like a fabulously interesting place to visit. And looking for ancestral info makes it even more special. Keep us posted on what you discover!
    Hope your heat moderates. Here in the northeast, we’ve actually been having a glorious summer, with 70 degree temperatures and low humidity.But today is sticky and over 100 degrees, so I know how horrible those heat waves can be. Stay cool!

    Reply
  30. Sue, that sounds like a fabulously interesting place to visit. And looking for ancestral info makes it even more special. Keep us posted on what you discover!
    Hope your heat moderates. Here in the northeast, we’ve actually been having a glorious summer, with 70 degree temperatures and low humidity.But today is sticky and over 100 degrees, so I know how horrible those heat waves can be. Stay cool!

    Reply
  31. A friend of mine has just started working at Ragley Hall, which looks truly beautiful inside and out so that’s on my list. Strawberry Hill looks fascinating – thanks for the interesting article. It’s now also on the list.

    Reply
  32. A friend of mine has just started working at Ragley Hall, which looks truly beautiful inside and out so that’s on my list. Strawberry Hill looks fascinating – thanks for the interesting article. It’s now also on the list.

    Reply
  33. A friend of mine has just started working at Ragley Hall, which looks truly beautiful inside and out so that’s on my list. Strawberry Hill looks fascinating – thanks for the interesting article. It’s now also on the list.

    Reply
  34. A friend of mine has just started working at Ragley Hall, which looks truly beautiful inside and out so that’s on my list. Strawberry Hill looks fascinating – thanks for the interesting article. It’s now also on the list.

    Reply
  35. A friend of mine has just started working at Ragley Hall, which looks truly beautiful inside and out so that’s on my list. Strawberry Hill looks fascinating – thanks for the interesting article. It’s now also on the list.

    Reply
  36. Thank you for this. Illuminating.
    I’m ashamed I’ve never been to Strawberry Hill, even though I drive past the signpost to it every time I visit a close friend. You’ve inspired me to get organised!

    Reply
  37. Thank you for this. Illuminating.
    I’m ashamed I’ve never been to Strawberry Hill, even though I drive past the signpost to it every time I visit a close friend. You’ve inspired me to get organised!

    Reply
  38. Thank you for this. Illuminating.
    I’m ashamed I’ve never been to Strawberry Hill, even though I drive past the signpost to it every time I visit a close friend. You’ve inspired me to get organised!

    Reply
  39. Thank you for this. Illuminating.
    I’m ashamed I’ve never been to Strawberry Hill, even though I drive past the signpost to it every time I visit a close friend. You’ve inspired me to get organised!

    Reply
  40. Thank you for this. Illuminating.
    I’m ashamed I’ve never been to Strawberry Hill, even though I drive past the signpost to it every time I visit a close friend. You’ve inspired me to get organised!

    Reply
  41. Oh, but we’ll have a grand ball before the house party ends – it just won’t be as crowded as the ones during the Season in London (smile). We will all have a grand time.

    Reply
  42. Oh, but we’ll have a grand ball before the house party ends – it just won’t be as crowded as the ones during the Season in London (smile). We will all have a grand time.

    Reply
  43. Oh, but we’ll have a grand ball before the house party ends – it just won’t be as crowded as the ones during the Season in London (smile). We will all have a grand time.

    Reply
  44. Oh, but we’ll have a grand ball before the house party ends – it just won’t be as crowded as the ones during the Season in London (smile). We will all have a grand time.

    Reply
  45. Oh, but we’ll have a grand ball before the house party ends – it just won’t be as crowded as the ones during the Season in London (smile). We will all have a grand time.

    Reply
  46. If you are interested in Gothic houses of that era, have a look at Arbury Hall, the interiors are the work of Sir Roger Newdigate, whose building at the same time as Horace Walpole at Strawberry Hill.

    Reply
  47. If you are interested in Gothic houses of that era, have a look at Arbury Hall, the interiors are the work of Sir Roger Newdigate, whose building at the same time as Horace Walpole at Strawberry Hill.

    Reply
  48. If you are interested in Gothic houses of that era, have a look at Arbury Hall, the interiors are the work of Sir Roger Newdigate, whose building at the same time as Horace Walpole at Strawberry Hill.

    Reply
  49. If you are interested in Gothic houses of that era, have a look at Arbury Hall, the interiors are the work of Sir Roger Newdigate, whose building at the same time as Horace Walpole at Strawberry Hill.

    Reply
  50. If you are interested in Gothic houses of that era, have a look at Arbury Hall, the interiors are the work of Sir Roger Newdigate, whose building at the same time as Horace Walpole at Strawberry Hill.

    Reply
  51. Thanks so much for the heads-up, Stephen. Will definitely take a look at Arbury Hall. Gothic was an unusual choice for Georgian-era buildings, so always interested in looking at examples of people who thought “outside the box.”

    Reply
  52. Thanks so much for the heads-up, Stephen. Will definitely take a look at Arbury Hall. Gothic was an unusual choice for Georgian-era buildings, so always interested in looking at examples of people who thought “outside the box.”

    Reply
  53. Thanks so much for the heads-up, Stephen. Will definitely take a look at Arbury Hall. Gothic was an unusual choice for Georgian-era buildings, so always interested in looking at examples of people who thought “outside the box.”

    Reply
  54. Thanks so much for the heads-up, Stephen. Will definitely take a look at Arbury Hall. Gothic was an unusual choice for Georgian-era buildings, so always interested in looking at examples of people who thought “outside the box.”

    Reply
  55. Thanks so much for the heads-up, Stephen. Will definitely take a look at Arbury Hall. Gothic was an unusual choice for Georgian-era buildings, so always interested in looking at examples of people who thought “outside the box.”

    Reply

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